Wednesday, December 30, 2009

And now, for 2010

It's the end of what has inarguably been a dismal year for Mexico. Drug-related violence has increased, the economy has plunged, swine flu has battered the already-hurt tourism industry, and so on.

Now there's talk about a third revolution in 2010, given that these events tend to happen in 100 year cycles in Mexico.

Wait. Stop. Rewind.

Enough of the fatalism. Mexico is not a failed state, but does risk becoming one if the people just let things happen. If there is going to be a revolution, the people have to play their part. It can't just happen without them.

There is no evidence that either rebel groups like the EPR or the drug cartels are going after the state. Thus far, they have shown no interest in doing so. Contrary to hype, the cartels have also shown very little desire to go after innocent civilians, either. (The Sept. 15, 2008 attacks in Morelia remain the horrific exception.)

Rebel groups like the EPR know damn well that the worse thing they can possibly do is attack or affect civilians directly. Since they found their brains, they've only attacked Pemex facilities and the like, and in early morning hours when no one is working there. Sure, we can expect some more attacks of that nature, but that's certainly not a revolution. Maybe they'll storm a town or two, but neither is that.

The revolution that Mexico needs, and the people want, is a jobs revolution. Hard-core lefties these days aren't talking about overthrowing the government, they're talking about earning money to support their families and god help us all, moving up a class. At least, that's the sense I get.

So it's up to the government of Mexico to create a revolution, one that will spur Mexico further forward in its quest for democracy and first-world status.

If Mexico falls apart next year, it will be because of itself, because of its people's lack of will to fight in spite of the difficulties they've faced this year. I'm not saying the people have to fight the cartels, I'm saying the people need to fight to maintain their sense of society, maintain values, work hard, etc etc. Don't let shit happen in a fatalistic way.

Mexico is still a fantastic country, with a million wonderful things and tremendous potential. People, don't drop the ball, disavow all responsibility and then say "Ooops, se cayo."

Feliz ano nuevo! (apologies, I can't do "tildes" on my computer, so if this seems crude to you, I'm sorry)

PS - The Gulf cartel and Zetas are now being called "The Company" by the U.S. Justice Department. Does anyone know why? Weird.

Warning: attacks against civilians likely!! (Not)

El Universal is reporting that an internal DEA memo is warning of attacks against "civilian targets" in Mexico on Jan. 1.
According to Mexico's leading daily, the DEA is warning that shopping centers, bridges, public transportation and public New Year's celebrations in Michoacán, Nuevo León, México, Chihuahua, Sinaloa, Durango, Zacatecas and Mexico City are potential targets.

A DEA source tells me that this is all just rumor, and El Universal simply made up the part about the DEA report. I've witnessed them do this before with both Mexican and US sources (they take old DEA or PGR reports and claim they are new, or simply conjure up reports out of thin air), but if this scaremongering news report is indeed made up, then Mexican journalism truly has hit rock bottom.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

the trouble with bloggers

I've just been reading a few blog posts criticizing David Luhnow's Mexico coverage in the Wall Street Journal, and thought I'd weigh in on blogs – and the problems with them.

Blogs are great, they allow the average person to disseminate their views, opine about whatever they like, and sometimes, offer a better version of the truth than the mainstream media. With all the cutbacks today in the mainstream press, blogs are more welcome than ever.

But... blogs suffer from their inherent form, which is to bounce off news, rather than report it. And because of their lack of understanding of the media, bloggers often end up being overly critical of material that is out there, rather like a nagging spouse or child who really doesn't know what they're talking about but desperately wants to be heard.

Bloggers, understand this: journalists are just people. Foreign correspondents, who most of you like to hate, are people who have covered many parts of the world; they are not experts in the local like some of you. Their talent lies in their ability to decipher events from their perspective and in a way that their readership, a wide readership often consisting of people who don't even know where mexico is on the world map, will understand. They are not the final authority, they are just interpreters.

Many bloggers don't seem to understand this; if a blogger doesn't agree with a correspondent's take, he tends to get offended and rant about it. Here's an idea: you don't like someone's take on a situation? Explain to me your view, but don't tell me it's right. I'll decide for myself.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Death toll, 2009

As 2009 comes to an end, it's time to look at the drug war numbers.

In third place, Tijuana, with 635. December has been particularly bloody, with 103 murders. WIth 635, Tijuana beats its 500 or so homicides of 2008.

In second place, Culiacan, which is set to hit about 500 homicides, just as it did last year. In the entire state of Sinaloa, there have been about 1,150 homicides; Culiacan has the lion's share.

And in first place? You guessed it. Ciudad Juarez has topped last year's tally of 1,600 homicides related to the drug trade with... 2,600. No wonder the government is rethinking its strategy up there, yet again.

The United States is on track to record about 17,000 homicides this year. Mexico is on track to record about 7,700. Mexico's population is just over a third of that of the United States. You do the math...

OK, I'll do the math. That means the official homicide rate in the US will be about 5.5 per 100,000 inhabitants. Mexico's will be about 7.1 per 100,000 inhabitants.

For the second year running, Mexico's homicide rate is worse than that of the United States, widely considered one of the most violent countries on earth.

NOTE: This photo is not really of Calderon's family, it is meant to be symbolic.

NOTE NO. 2: Lindsay Lohan in El Universal again. This time they are wondering whether her beauty is fading. Classy.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Was the Navy trying to kill Beltran Leyva?

Raúl Vera, the often-controversial bishop of Saltillo, claims that the death of Arturo Beltran Leyva was an"extrajudicial killing" on the part of the Navy. He says the boys in blue had no intention of capturing the narco, and swooped in on the Cuernavaca complex with intent to kill.

If this is true, the Mexican military has some explaining to do. Narco he may be, but Arturo Beltran Leyva has rights just like the rest of us. In this war on drugs, if the military can kill a high-level suspect without repercussion, what's to stop them killing a low-level one? More than 80,000 people have been locked up in the war on drugs since Calderon took office – how many of these men and women had their rights waived? What if the policy had been shoot to kill – would they all be lying in mass graves right now?

Back to the Navy and its intent to kill Beltran Leyva. I don't have any sources in the Navy, so I can't vouch for the accuracy of my next statement, it's speculation.

But yes, the Navy did go into Cuernavaca with the intent to kill Beltran Leyva. Although extradition proceedings have improved between US and Mexico, jailing a top narco like Arturo BL is too risky; all evidence against them may not hold up in a court of law, particularly in a US one. (There's currently one narco who is desperately seeking extradition to the US, because he firmly believes that evidence against him would be thrown out by a US court; in Mexico, he'd get at least 20 years in a maximum security facility)

Former DEA officials have told me that there is literally no interest in capturing guys like Beltran Leyva and Chapo. Killing them is the only way to bring them down completely.

It's not quite the Escobar era in Colombia, when the U.S. was actively working to kill the Medellin drug lord, but the same intent is there.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Beltran Leyva fallout (update) and human rights commissions

Ten people were killed over Christmas in Sinaloa. Even for Sinaloa, that's bad – about 4 times the normal homicide rate. I guess the Beltran Leyva crew and Chapo's folks are squaring off.

Now, for the post of the day: Are human rights in mexico a complete joke?
The National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) was formed in 1989, by the government. It was 10 years before it became an independent organization; cynics claimed it was created simply to give the appearance that Mexico was doing something vis a vis human rights during the Salinas sexenio – they were probably right.

Now, however, the CNDH (and its mexico city equivalent) is independent. It regularly speaks out on behalf of the nation's oppressed masses, and files complaints with the government.


The CNDH, and all the state and city commissions, are obligated to accept and file any complaint that is made. This has created an immense backlog of ridiculous claims, which understaffed offices then have to deal with. The complaints can be totally crazy (one that springs to mind is Sandra Avila Beltran, the narco, who complained that her human rights were being denied because their were cockroaches in her prison cell) and should be rejected outright. But because everyone has a right to be heard, they have to be accepted.

Mexico needs to be more tolerant, there's no doubt about it. But in order that a tolerant government not be manipulated and taken advantage of, it must also be firm and be willing to say no. Being tolerant is not the same as being a pushover. Some of these complaints should be thrown straight in the trash, which would then help to boost the CNDH's credibility.

Tomorrow: Did the Navy act outside the law, and go after Arturo Beltran Leyva with intent to kill? (Hint: yes.)

Human rights and narcos

The UN says that organized crime is threatening human rights activists in Mexico, impeding their work and making it more dangerous by the day to promote human rights.

This is no doubt true: in Sinaloa, human rights commissioners no longer even go into the Sierra Madre, it's too dangerous. About 3 times a month, they take a van and go to some of the villages in the foothills, just to deal with immediate issues (domestic violence is the main one). Perhaps the biggest problem facing human rights commissions is that the people who live in the sierras don't even know they have any rights. The commission is currently printing up booklets to inform the masses (of course, most of the people in the mountains can't read, but the pictures should tell them something) but if they're not able to enter the area, what good does it do? Organized crime is definitely an impediment to education, progress, freedom etc.

But what about the army and government? About a month ago, Mercedes Murillo, a well-known and respected human rights activist in Culiacan, received a visit from a group of soldiers in the middle of the night. The general had sent them to search her home, they were suspicious of narco-activity. (They didn't elaborate.) Gustavo de la Rosa Hickerson, a rights activist in Juarez, says he too has received threats from the military on account of his work.

It's a common perception (and it may well be a misperception, i have no proof) among the military that rights activists are bleeding hearts who suffer from a stockholm syndrome-like relationship with the narcos, in large part because they have such an acute distaste for the army. But no activists have ever knowingly harbored narcos or criminals, they've simply pushed the authorities to apply a rule of law that barely exists.

I recently spoke with Murillo in her little office in Culiacan; she had this to say about the army: "The army wasn't created or educated to be police. They don't obey the law, they obey the general. Disobedience is [considered] worse than killing."

She's got a point. With all the talk about police reform, Calderon would be smart to adopt some sort of transparent military reforms. There have been cases in Mexico where the soldiers have been put to work on reconstruction and social activities (Michoacan, for instance), and the army has long been well-respected for its handling of hurricanes and other natural disasters. It's time the military learned to show this more popular face in the context of the drug war.

I'm not saying the army should treat the narcos with kid gloves. But I am saying that innocent bystanders, or even those who might be suspected but against which there is no proof, should be not be subjected to harassment or worse.

Tomorrow: Are human rights in Mexico a complete joke?

Friday, December 25, 2009

Mexico's Lindsay Lohan obsession

Because it's Christmas, (and because it's my second day blogging) I'm posting something a little less serious: Why is Mexico's leading daily El Universal so obsessed with Lindsay Lohan? Every day, nearly without fail, next to images and stories about the drug war, Ms. Lohan is featured on the paper's home page.

A recent sampling of headlines:
Lindsay gets naked for Muse magazine
Lindsay hits her mom
Lindsay rejects going to rehab
Lindsay gives designing a try
Lindsday won't get naked, not even for one million dollars
Lindsay Lohan is obsessed with Marilyn
Lindsay, in search of a new romance

No other celeb gets such attention. Why Lohan? Is there something I'm missing here?
"Lindsay, ligada al cartel del Golfo, dice PGR"?

(This photo of Lohan is the one El Universal used to accompany its mother-beating story. nice selection.)

Thursday, December 24, 2009

In Beltran Leyva's wake

The fallout from Arturo Beltran Leyva's death in Mexico has begun. First, the family of a marine involved in his takedown is offed in Tabasco. The word in Culiacan is that people should stay off the streets, as it's all about to fly off the handle there.

Not surprising: if Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman Loera did indeed have a hand in the arrest of "Mochomo" (Alfredo Beltran Leyva) back in 2008, if he did indeed have a hand in Arturo's death, then Beltran Leyva supporters in Sinaloa will likely want payback.

But... the Beltran Leyva cells are allied with Los Zetas, who lack a solid structure and hierarchy as they expand throughout the country and further separate from the Gulf cartel; the remaining Beltran Leyva brothers are not as take-charge as their two fallen kin. Chapo and El Mayo have the perfect opportunity to restore order and power in Sinaloa. My money's on Chapo to win this one.

What I do expect is more attacks by the Beltran Leyva cells on the military. An Army chopper crashed in Guerrero on Wednesday, let's see what the investigations into that reveal. Guerrero is Beltran Leyva turf after all. I reckon Chilpancingo will be getting hit hard in coming weeks, Acapulco too.

On a side note, has anyone seen pictures of Beltran Leyva's funeral? I haven't seen any published. I assume most reporters stayed safely away from the scene.